The coast redwood is an apt symbol for the Santa Cruz Mountains. The
Sequoia sempervirens makes its home here in the coast ranges of
Northern California. (OK, a few live in Oregon, too, but they are
Californians at heart.)
Redwoods like living here, enjoying high winter precipitation,
summer fog, infrequent frost, and moderate summer temperatures. So
do we, except when the precipitation gets out of hand as it did this
year. And even then, the greener grasses and fields of wildflowers
make it worth a little wetness.
Redwoods think big. The world’s tallest trees can reach a height of
over 368 feet. And they can be over thirty feet in diameter.
And redwoods endure. The oldest specimens have a lifespan of over
2200 years. They are tough. The bigger redwoods have thick bark that
withstands fire. The heartwood is resistant to fungal diseases and
insects. And they can be shaded by other trees for decades, then
break through to the sun.
Redwoods are supportive. Mother trees host young redwoods, forming
natural cathedrals. This competition among brother and sister trees
is one reason that redwoods are among the fastest growing trees in
the world. Parent trees even support “albino” redwoods, a genetic
mutation that produces needles without chlorophyll.
Redwoods are adaptable. A redwood can sprout from dormant buds in
its burl, trunk, and limbs. If a redwood’s top is destroyed, new
shoots issue from buds, often growing horizontally, and then
shooting upwards at a right angle. It can also send up hundreds of
shoots from its base.
Unfortunately, redwoods are good lumber. According to Mark Borchert,
co-author of Coast Redwood, a Natural and Cultural History, “That’s
why less than 5 percent of the original old-growth redwood forest is
still intact.” We are left with young spindly trees and a few
isolated giants, another species dying from urban pressures and
industrial greed. But these remaining trees, the young, the twisted,
and the less accessible, are worth seeing.
You can still find them in mountain neighborhoods, young trees
behind the Old Loma playfield, in Redwood Estates, or deep in
sheltered canyons. You can even see an old giant hiding behind a
private residence in Villa del Monte. I’m also looking forward to
visiting the locally famous redwood “twins” on a Midpen Open Space
tour of the previously closed western section of Bear Creek Redwoods
Open Space Preserve.
Where to see redwoods
Henry Cowell and Big Basin offer short self-guided tours along a
flat trail of less than a mile. Henry Cowell is less famous but
closer. Both are perfect redwood zoos for non-hikers. To see a more
secluded old growth forest, visit Portola State Park.
Amazingly enough, the Watsonville town square features three redwood
relatives: our coast redwood
(Sequoia sempervirens), the
sequoia (Sequoiadendron gigantean), and the dawn redwood (Metasequoia
One of my favorite redwood trails is the nearby Marcel’s Forest in
the lower section of Nisene Marks State Park. The Old Growth Loop
Trail is only a little over a mile long. It offers a lot of nature,
including a stream crossing, a moss and fern-covered grotto, a
“crazy forest” grove of twisted redwoods, beautiful tiger lilies and
mountain iris (in May), and “The Advocate,” the largest redwood tree
in Nisene Marks State Park. (Its circumference is 45 feet.) Rubbing
this old redwood’s bark is touching history.